Flickr in Colour

ideeFlickr users add over 4,000 images per minute to the wildly popular image-sharing site. Over ten million images have been tagged with the Creative Commons tag -- allowing for creative, and sometimes commercial re-use. Ideé Inc has taken those ten million-odd images and created an interesting little search engine called Multicolr Search Lab. The only search 'term' allowed is colour. Click  on the little grid of colour swatches at top right, and the main part of the screen will be filled with images primarily containing that colour. Click on another colour, and the engine locates images with both the original colour and the new colour.  The results can be quite startling, and very useful if you are looking for a background image, or a texture. Not much use if you need to refine the search by subject or theme, but an interesting pointer as to the kind of capabilities that smart search image engines will soon be able to offer.
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Vectors Online

aviaryOne of the interesting aspects of cloud computing are programs that run over the web rather than residing on your PC. Examples include Google Documents, Google Calendar, online accounting solutions and online databases. Other programs install on your computer, but run on a constant stream of data from the web, such as Google Earth, or are strongly integrated with the web, such as Picasa. Google Docs and Calendar have fairly limited capabilities compared to programs that reside on a single PC, mostly due to limitations of bandwidth. In the graphics field, the tentative beginnings of a revolution may be underway. A company named Aviary is offering a suite of programs available online, no installation required. The programs include both an image editor and a vector drawing editor. The drawing tools are frankly primitive compared to those available in Illustrator or CorelDRAW. The fundamental interface is very similar, and it could prove a useful introduction to people learning to use vector packages. As a pointer to the future, however, it is very interesting indeed. If a user could access a professional standard drawing package online, would it make sense any more to install it on your machine  (assuming reliable internet service provision)? Updates and improvements would be instantly available to the user, projects could be stored and distributed online, and collaboration and file sharing would be much easier. The same reasoning would apply to photo editing packages and even page layout programs. The financial model would be subscription or membership based, with some offerings perhaps free in return for advertising placement. Bandwidth would have to improve dramatically for this to become a reality. Barriers to entry for new software providers would be much lower. Personal computers would become windows to a much larger realm rather than kingdoms in their own right. Perhaps the only role for the home computer would be to mirror the data generated online in as a form of insurance. Perhaps each of the programs to which the user subscribes could have an offline version for moments where the web is unavailable, resynchronising when the connection is restored.
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Mi Casa es Picasa

These days it is easy to accumulate large quantities of digital images. Hard disks are much bigger, digital cameras are ubiquitous and attached images are emailed in industrial quantities. The image viewing and search tools supplied by Messrs Gates and Jobs are functional, but often slow and not particularly exciting. Others have tried to fill this gap. Apple has iPhoto, Extensis has Portfolio and Adobe sells Photoshop Lightroom. A program called iView Media Pro was gobbled up by Microsoft, but still exists. All are excellent programs, but in our experience, they are just  not as fast and intuitive with large volumes of files as Google's (free) Picasa. After installation, the user instructs the folder manager to watch specified folders on her hard disk. Picasa can also watch folders on networked drives and removable media. The initial index of all image files  on a given volume can take many hours. The resultant database built up by Picasa is often large. The interface is extremely clean. The default option is rows of image thumbnails, but alternatives include timeline and slideshow.  Searches are carried out 'live' -- search results appear as the user types. Individual images can be opened and edited in a number of simple ways.  Scrolling through results or the overall image library is usually fast, particularly compared to previously mentioned programs. Yet Picasa does have its flaws, or at least it can be pushed to breaking point. Image collections with more than ten thousand images may load quite happily in Picasa, but after a few searches, the program often slows dramatically. Picasa performs well in OS X, but even there, a very large image library can bring matters to a standstill.  Users are advised to watch only the folders they need, not the entire disc. It is also possible, if time consuming, to regenerate the database. Picasa doesn't just sit on your desktop. As befits a child of Google, Picasa offers access to Picasa Web Albums, where users can  store up to 1Gb of images on Google's servers. Bloggers can also upload images from Picasa to their own blogs. Useful how-tos for Picasa can be found here and here. Overall, Picasa is a worthy and capable image viewer and suitable for the vast majority of computer users.
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